A High-Tech Squeeze and Gridlock at OFW and Sunset Threaten to Take Venice Down

June 1, 2015

By John Stein

An office building for general and internet technology uses has been proposed for 601 Ocean Front Walk (OFW) at Sunset Avenue. It would have 22,738sf of office space on second and third floors, 5254sf of retail across the front at OFW ground level with parking behind, and two more levels of subterranean parking. It would have an 800sf live/work apartment at the back of the second floor, which by the developer’s statement, allows him to qualify the project as “mixed use residential/commercial” and gain a 50% development intensity bonus. Project architect Glen Irani of Venice tells us the apartment would be used for a night watchman. In the end, 82% of the total leasable space would be for office and office security uses, 18% for retail. Essentially, it’s an office building.
While there are many objectionable details to this project (the elegant design, to my mind, not among them), what I want to focus on are office uses taking over OFW and how this building would gridlock the surrounding neighborhood. First the gridlock.
It may be difficult for outsiders to recognize but this lot holds a keystone position at the center of a quarter-mile, 6-block long section of OFW between Rose and Brooks Avenues and is the last remaining undeveloped lot in the area. The pressure this proposed project would exert on the system of 20ft wide alleys behind it would extend throughout the neighborhood. It would swamp local parking, clog the alleys when one truck can’t get past another one unloading, and hold the entire community in its grip. The subject property now serves as a parking lot and relieves the severe parking deficit for blocks around. It is where people park when they visit Walk Street residents, where delivery and construction vehicles can find temporary parking, where nearby institutions can lease parking required for their operations, and where beachgoers park. It is the neighborhood’s safety valve.
This project could turn that 6-block length of OFW into an access nightmare of traffic and congestion for residents and visitors alike, and incidentally for office occupants as well. This project provides just 91 parking spaces for an anticipated 404 occupants and most will not find parking for blocks around. Those that do will displace others. The project supplies extra bicycle parking and presumably would organize shuttle busses for its employees, as does Google nearby, but the immediate local parking crunch would only be exacerbated by this project. All sorts of nearby large structures built before WWII depend on being able to park cars here. The Ellison Apartments, 615 OFW adjacent to the South, Thornton Towers, Phoenix House, Figtree Restaurant, Su Casa at Venice Beach, Cadillac Hotel, Venice Beach Suites, none of which have parking of their own and some of which establishments depend for their business licenses on existing contractual arrangements for parking on this lot, all would feel the strangling squeeze. Additional lesser residential structures dotted without parking among the Walk Streets and having 2 or 3 stories of small apartments, all count on the safety valve of this parking lot. Much is at stake here.
Extending out from this section of OFW, the 13-block section between Rose and Windward Avenues is the heart of Venice Beach, with its direct proximity to the sand and views of the ocean not blocked by athletic courts or parking lots. This is where Los Angelinos and visitors from afar come by bus and by car to commune with the beach and the ocean, enjoy the free-wheeling carnival atmosphere, feel the fresh ocean breezes, sense the absence of cars, and be at home in their souls.
If this project were allowed to go forward, its precedent would encourage high tech office redevelopment all along OFW because high tech pays higher rents than other uses and because most of the OFW lots are similarly zoned. Office uses do already exist along OFW in similarly designated Community Commercial lots, but this proposed project would be the first to be developed under the Venice Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan, commonly referred to as the “Venice Specific Plan”, enacted in 2001. With this project as precedent, the rest of OFW would likely soon become a high-tech office campus. The cumulative effect on traffic and parking would be horrific. (While the section of OFW immediately surrounding the project has 20ft wide Walk Street feeder alleys, 15ft wide feeder alleys are common elsewhere.) The beach vibe would metamorphose into that of an office park. Venice Beach would cease to exist as we know it. It is a sad and frightening prospect, but this project could bust the neighborhood at its seams, destroy it, and take the entire OFW and Venice Beach with it.
The Specific Plan states: “The Community Commercial designation is intended to provide focal points for local shopping, civic and social activities and for visitor-
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serving commercial uses”. It goes on to state: “The integration and mixing of uses will increase opportunities for employees to live near jobs and residents to live near shopping,” thereby decreasing automobile trips and traffic. The wording appears to exclude general office uses, as not providing a focal point for local shopping, civic and social activities or visitor-serving commercial uses, and displacing retail uses that would allow residents to live near shopping. The developer argues the opposite, that by including office uses in a residential neighborhood the project increases opportunities for employees to live near jobs (although not for residents to live near shopping), and thereby reduces commuting and traffic.
But as another consequence of high-tech office uses proliferating in Venice, decently paid high-tech employees are competing in the local rental housing market and driving out long-time and poorer residents. We all (mostly) use high-tech. We love it. But Venice dies if the local rental housing stock gets scooped up and taken off the market by the new influx of high-tech employees. Rents have soared and the up-and-coming artists and musicians who give Venice its life and who always struggle are being forced out. Without them the Venice Spirit as we know it dries up. Venice becomes a boringly predictable, quite wealthy community like every other urban beach community from the Mexican to Oregon border, and ordinary folk, those without money, lose their place in the sole beach community that welcomes them with both arms. Venice Beach ceases to be the place we all know and love, i.e. that place which is NOT like everywhere else.
The consequences of allowing high-tech office development all along OFW would be tragic. Decision-makers in the Planning Department and at the Coastal Commission might not be aware just how tragic, and may need to be educated and enlightened, because people who don’t live here might just not be able to see the full extent of what is happening and foresee where it leads. But the Coastal Commission has as its mandate to protect and encourage public access along the beach. Traffic gridlock and a parking squeeze undermine that mandate. So would general office uses taking up Community Commercial lots “intended to provide focal points for local shopping, civic and social activities and for visitor-serving commercial uses” on OFW. High tech offices employ security guards to keep the public out, while local shopping, civic and social activities and visitor-serving commercial uses invite people in. High tech office uses on OFW do not promote public access, and in fact they seriously undermine it.
Things that happen on Venice Beach often become magnified into big news that travels far. The high-tech office incursion is already national news, but were this allowed to become a complete take-over, it would only come from blindness or short-sightedness, and the whole world would be watching. For the sake of Venice and the wider world, Venice residents need to make the picture crystal clear to all who will listen and look.
Write, call, or e-mail City Planning, the Venice Neighborhood Council  and the Coastal Commission, as follows:
Refer to  Case ZA-2015-102, 601 Ocean Front Walk, Venice.

Lynda Smith, Project Point Person
Los Angeles City Planning Dept
213.978.1196
Lynda.Smith@LACITY.ORG

Robin Rudisill, Chairperson, LUPC
Venice Neighborhood Council
Chair-lupc@venice.org

Zach.rehm@coastal.ca.gov

OFW Development2

Above and below: Proposed office-building development for 601 OFWOFW Development1

 

OFW parking lot

 

Above: Parking lot, site of proposed development, 601 OFW

Photo: Greta Cobar

Snapchat

Above: Snapchat leased out the two buildings at 619 and 701 OFW and illegally transformed them into business offices, which are not permitted on OFW. Curtains hide the cubicles and numerous computers inside what was built to be residences. Security guys (pictured) have a 24-hour presence.

Photo: Greta Cobar


Historic OFW Houses to be Demolished

June 1, 2015

By Greta Cobar

The very last two historic houses on OFW are about to be torn down.
According to the Notice of Public Hearing posted on the Speedway side of the 811-815 Ocean Front Walk properties:
“Permit for the demolition of two existing residential buildings containing a total of nine dwelling units, and the construction of a new 35-foot tall, 2,691 square-foot restaurant on the ground-floor with two residential units above totaling 8,456 square feet.”
“Conditional use to permit the dispensing of a full line of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption in conjunction with 100 seats having operating hours between 8am to 1am Friday and Saturday and 8am to 12 midnight Sunday through Thursday.”
The Notice does not mention where the patrons or the employees will park. It also fails to take into consideration the illegal, selectively enforced curfew now in effect on OFW between midnight and 5am. How are the customers and employees going to exit the restaurant after midnight? Speedway is not pedestrian-friendly and is overall less safe than OFW.
Furthermore, Venice already has the highest concentration of liquor licenses in the L.A. County – 33 per square mile, compared to an average of four in the rest of the county. A year ago there were 108 alcohol licenses in Venice, and there are probably more now. That equates to one license per 370 people. The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) regulation is one per 2000 people at the most. The public has been supportive of a ban on new liquor licenses in Venice, with our elected representative ignoring us. To sign a petition advocating for a moratorium on alcohol licenses in Venice, go to: http://chn.ge/1ALHgdn.
The trend in Venice over-development has been to maximize square footage of all projects by building to the edge of the property line and by maximizing height. The market value stands at $1250 per square foot of new development. That raises the property value and therefore the amount of tax paid on the properties. And all that tax money goes to the city of Los Angeles to do whatever it wants with, such as cover the salaries of our City Council representatives, who happen to be the highest-paid city reps in the country. Do you now see why our City Council representative Mike Bonin has been supporting over-development in Venice although the people he represents, and who elected him, bitterly oppose it? He’s working for the greedy city of Los Angeles, not for Venice. The more over-development is built here in Venice, the more tax money Los Angeles collects. Do you agree that we need cityhood?
The proposed project for 811-815 OFW lists John Reed as the Representative. The public hearing will take place on Thursday, June 11 at 10:30am at the Hearing Office of Zoning Administration, West L.A. Municipal Building, second floor, hearing room. The address is: 1645 Corinth Ave., L.A., CA 90025.
The hideous wave of over-development not coincidentally started in Oakwood, targeting the less-affluent, minority residents of Venice. However, in no time it moved further and further West, now beginning to hit OFW itself – the last line in the sand.

 

 

OFW historic houses1Above: 811 and 815 OFW, built in 1905

Photo: Greta Cobar

 


An Artist’s Journey

June 1, 2015

By Jack Neworth

These past weeks have been stressful here in Venice. The death of an unarmed homeless man at the hands of a police officer, has left a sense of tension. One can only hope that justice is soon served and that somehow some good comes out of this senseless tragedy.
In stark contrast to this tension, however, is the calming presence of a talented poet, recording artist and painter from El Salvador, Mauricio Eduardo (Moreira) Calderon De La Barca. His friends just call him “Eddie,” otherwise they’d be out of breath.
As a child in El Salvador Eddie’s witnessed much violence. At the age of 9, he unavoidably witnessed a public execution as a military firing squad “executed” a group of protesting college students lined up against a wall. Later, the government hosed off the wall as if by doing so they could erase the brutal acts, but the memories were forever etched in a boy’s mind.
As a result of these tragic experiences, “peace,” is an overriding theme in Eddie’s art and life. Blessed with a positive spirit, he’s grateful for every day he’s able to create art.
A welcome fixture on Ocean Front Walk for 6 years, Eddie’s the quintessential “street artist.” Charming and affable, he reminds me of a combination of the actor Diego Luna and the tennis player Rafa Nadal. (One rarely sees those two names in the same sentence.)
Eddie’s father, a master carpenter, and his mother, a seamstress, taught him another life lesson that he carries to this day: that others may have it worse. Maybe that’s why Eddie feels so fortunate despite not having a roof over his head or a studio to paint in, two “circumstances” he hopes to remedy soon.
Weather permitting, Eddie’s on Ocean Front Walk daily painting large canvasses. He describes his art as, “Ethereal, spiritual and healing. Using metallics and vibrant colors, I incorporate sacred geometry and mandalas. I try to communicate a healing light that stimulates thought and provides a sense of peace.” In fact, viewing Eddie’s art can have that effect.
Judging by the volume of sales, however, Eddie’s most popular works are his hand-painted skateboards. Many have the image of icons from the 60s, including Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and others from that era.
Tourists from all over the globe are fascinated by Eddie’s work and buy them to take home. As a result, Eddie’s various pieces of art are in five continents. They’re all across the U.S. and in the following additional countries: Chile, South Africa, China, Japan, Russia, England, France, Germany, Spain, and Norway. Put it this way: Eddie’s art is in more countries than Secretary of State John Kerry has been to.
Eddie dreams of one day personally visiting these places but in the meantime it brings him pleasure to know his art work is there. And he’s also flattered that part of the tourists’ memories of their vacation to Venice includes something he created.
An artist’s life is rarely easy, but being homeless presents daunting additional challenges. Eddie owns a van in which he sleeps, so has some protection from the elements. Typically, he’s grateful for what he has rather than lament about what he doesn’t. And he constantly tries to help others less fortunate. (Eddie is responsible and mechanically talented, traits he inherited from his father and would make an ideal property caretaker.)
Unfortunately, the van often doesn’t start. On occasion it’s a rather comical scene to see Eddie and his friends pushing his vehicle from one side of the street to the other to avoid a street sweeper ticket. Eddie plans to fix the van and get it smogged again soon. To raise funds he’s hopeful of getting his various art works into an exhibition at a local gallery.
Perhaps from his childhood traumas in chaotic and often war-torn El Salvador, Eddie is a highly spiritual person. He practices Kundalini yoga and considers Ram Das Bir (Singh) as his guru. His spiritual name is Mahanjot Singh, which means the lion filled with the light of God in his heart.
Much of Eddie’s work seems inspired by the 60s and reflects the peace and love from that era. He’s gratified by all the positive feedback he gets from foreign tourists who purchase his art and poetry, and also from locals, too. It is important to Eddie that he help show residents of Venice that street artists do make a difference. Eddie De La Barca certainly has.
To see Eddie’s art go to space #31 on the boardwalk, between Horizon and Westminster. Online, go to Eddie De La Barca on Facebook and Instagram. He can be reached at: satnameddie@gmail.com.

Jack Neworth px

 

Above: Eddie De La Barca on OFW turns skateboards into art

Photo by: Julie White


New Bike Racks on OFW

June 1, 2015

What Venetians had to say about the new bike racks:

“Who makes these awful decisions?”

“So depressing, like a final blow to Venice, so Santa Monica Promenade/Disneyland, barf.”

“So ugly – in an artist community.”

“How much did this cost?”

“Car drove down OFW day after all new bike racks and bollards were installed.”

“In a real emergency, help won’t be able to get through – unless they knock over the bike racks.”
new bike racks

Above: New bike racks installed on OFW to prevent cars from entering. If a car hit one of those bike racks even slightly, it would knock it over.

Photo: Greta Cobar

bike rack5Bike racks that look like tombstones installed on walk streets. When in use, they block access, especially for a person with a disability, which is an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) violation.

Photo: Greta Cobar

bollards2

More useless, new yellow bollards installed off OFW. WHY?

Photo: Greta Cobar


Take a Bath You Stinker!

April 1, 2015

By Marty (Shtunken) Liboff

There is an old joke about a little boy and girl taking a bath together and the little girl sees the boy’s penis and says, “Can I play with that?” and the boy says, “No! You already broke yours off!” Long, long ago in ancient Rome they built huge bathhouses where people of all classes would go to bathe and mingle. In early Santa Monica and what was to become Ocean Park and Venice, many of the early beach shanties had a toilet but no baths or showers. Sometimes our hotels had a shared bathroom and shower on each floor of a building. As many of you know, our beautiful ocean rarely ever gets warm enough for swimming without a wet suit. Swimming in the ocean in the good old days was dangerous since there were usually no regular life guards. An amazing craze began in the late 1800s with beach bathhouses that had swimming pools filled with ocean water.
In 1876 on the north beach around where Chautauqua Blvd. is today a small bathhouse opened with showers and baths. Soon another bathhouse opened next door with an indoor pool using ocean water. In 1887 the Crystal Plunge opened with an open air seawater pool by what is now the Casa del Mar Hotel at Pico Blvd. In 1890s the huge Arcadia Hotel in Santa Monica had a large bathhouse. In 1894 the North Beach Bathhouse opened just north of the early Santa Monica Pier. It had a large salt water pool and had many dressing rooms and a restaurant. Soon several bathhouses opened along the beach. You could bathe and swim in ocean water without even sticking your toes in the ocean! Most cost about 25 cents, which wasn’t cheap in those days.
In the late 1800s, Abbot Kinney and his partners were busy building Ocean Park on Santa Monica’s southern border. They sold lots and built a pier and resort with gambling. They faced some opposition from the city and the railroads and Kinney and his partners were not getting along together. His partners were Thomas Dudley who sold his interests to Alexander Fraser, Henry Gage and George Merritt Jones. Some streets around the beach were named after them. The story goes that in January 1904, Kinney and his three remaining partners all agreed to flip a coin to see who would stay in Ocean Park and who would leave and take over some land a ways south of Rose Ave. This land was considered worthless swampy marsh land. The coin was flipped and Kinney won the toss. To everyone’s amazement Kinney took the worthless marsh! He proceeded to clear the land and create his fantasy world that he called Venice of America. Some called it Kinney’s Folly.
Abbot Kinney’s ex partners decided they needed to spruce up their Ocean Park resort to compete with the amazing new Venice with its canals, pier and beautiful Italian Renaissance style buildings around what is now Windward Ave. They erected an enormous bathhouse on the Ocean Front Walk at Navy Street. A.E. Fraser hired builder Joseph C. Newscom to construct it. They spent $185,000, a fortune at that time. It took 18 months to build. Back then, everything north of Rose Ave. was still considered Ocean Park. Today the Venice border is just north of Navy St. and the bathhouse would be in Venice. The huge bathhouse opened the same 4th of July weekend as Venice of America in 1905. It was the 8th wonder of the world!
Just north of the new bathhouse the large Hotel Decatur was built. The small Denver Hotel just south of it at Ozone Ave. is now the Israel Levin Senior Center. I still remember the Levin Center many years ago with a second floor. The second floor apartments were removed because of earthquake concerns.
The gigantic new bathhouse was made to look like an enormous Moorish mosque. It resembled the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey. The indoor sea water pools came to be known as plunges, and this one was called the Ocean Park Plunge. It was also referred to in its early days as the Natatorium in Ocean Park. A “natatorium” is from the Latin and is a building with a swimming pool sometimes enclosed in its own ornate building. It became one of the main tourist attractions in southern California. There were more postcards and photos of it than anything else around here of that era. It had an enormous indoor swimming pool that they claimed was the biggest in the world. The heated salt water pool was 70 by 70 feet. Back then the ocean was much closer to the walkway. They ran pipes under the sand and pumped in ocean water. The water was heated and so you could very comfortably swim all year in sea water. There were filters to clean the sometimes murky sea water that was being pumped in. The filters had to be cleaned regularly. It was like a very early water park with slides, ropes, swinging rings and diving platforms. There was a large staff of lifeguards, matrons, janitors, massage workers and sales and restaurant personnel. After a few years the outside front was lined with shops of all kinds just like the Ocean Front Walk has today. You could buy the latest swim gown and bloomers or buy a hotdog. It was quite an enterprise. Tourists flocked from all over the world to the bathhouse and the Ocean Park Pier and the new Venice of America. At night the bathhouse and the piers were all lit up in a dazzling display of lights.
People have always believed in the medicinal properties of mineral baths and sea water. Tourists were led to believe that basking in the heated ocean water was beneficial to your health. It gave you strength and vitality. Now you could swim all year in warm ocean water. Along with the giant pool, the bathhouse offered lockers and showers. There were hundreds of dressing rooms. You could rent a towel and swim suits so you didn’t need to bring anything with you to the beach. There was a sauna and massage rooms. There were individual hot sea water bathtubs to soak in and then you would jump into a fresh water bath to clean your pores. There was a restaurant and bleachers to watch the swimmers. There were fancy lounges to relax. The new trolleys could bring you in from downtown L.A. for an amazing day at our beach resorts.
When Venice of America opened they had the Surf Bathhouse near the beach by Windward Ave. but it just had changing rooms and showers and no pool. Then another bathhouse opened in 1906 called the Lagoon Bathhouse with a 70 foot by 70 foot heated salt water pool like the Ocean Park Plunge. It was about where the northwest corner of Windward Ave and Main Street is today. Most locals are shocked when they learn that back then the Venice Circle was under water in a big lagoon.
But the Ocean Park Plunge was right on the Ocean Front Walk and looked so awesome. So, not to be out done, Abbot Kinney built another large bathhouse just north of Windward Ave. by the beach. It was about where the the Sidewalk Cafe is today on the beach side. It was called the Venice Plunge and it opened in 1908 and cost $100,000. He combined the Surf Bathhouse with its changing rooms, showers and lockers with an enormous fancy new building. It had an even larger pool than the Ocean Park Plunge! The large, heated, salt water pool was 150 by 100 feet and could hold 2000 people. It was the biggest in the west. It had filters to clean the incoming ocean water. There was a large balcony with seats for 1500 people to watch all kinds of aquatic events below in the giant pool. They staged water polo and swimming and diving contests. Jeffrey Stanton in his wonderful book describes a stunt man who dressed up in a chicken suit and set himself on fire and then dove from the high rafters into the deep pool! What a show! Jeffrey says there was a heating plant near the lagoon at Windward Ave. that kept the place nice and warm. There were both a deep and shallow end. Over the deep end was a high swing. Also at the deep end was a large diving platform with several levels of heights to dive. There were also diving boards and slides. Around some sides of the enormous pool were small fountains shooting up geysers of water. In the middle of the great pool was a big heated fountain where several people could sit and warm their tushies. Abbot Kinney had built a fun aquarium with all sorts of fish by his pier. In his new bathhouse swimming pool he put a large glass window where viewers could watch the swimmers from under water. It was Kinney’s human aquarium! We can imagine this was quite risque for that time watching young men and women swimming underwater in their bathing suits! I wish I could have seen that!
The Venice Plunge had an upstairs that originally had a gym and exercise rooms. Later the upstairs was converted into hotel rooms. In its declining years, the rooms were turned into cheap apartments. It outlasted many of the bathhouses along our beaches and even escaped an arson attempt in 1914 and the great pier fire in 1920 that destroyed most of the original Venice Pier.
From photos and post cards I see there were several bathhouses built within a few miles along our beaches. There was one in Malibu that looked like a beautiful little castle. There was the one by Chautauqua Blvd. and another near Topanga Canyon called the Santa Monica Canyon Bathhouse. There was the North Beach Bathhouse next to the Santa Monica Pier and the one in the Arcadia Hotel. There was the Crystal Plunge and later there was a bathhouse south of Pico Blvd. around Bicknell Street and another around Ashland Ave. on the north side of the Ocean Park Pier. There were Kinney’s bathhouses and maybe even more. However, the Ocean Park Plunge at Navy Street in Venice that looked like a giant, ornate Muslim mosque may have been the coolest looking. Beach bathhouses became the in thing for a while. Many were built after this along the southern California coast. Large ones were built in Redondo Beach and Long Beach. One of the most famous was the Sutro Baths in San Francisco that was built a couple years before our Ocean Park Plunge. The Sutro Baths had both a large ocean water and also a fresh water pool. Some were financed by the new railroads to promote tourism. Soon the fad was picked up on the east coast and large bathhouses were built at Coney Island, New York and in Atlantic City. Soon every beach resort town wanted a bathhouse. All of them were modeled after our bathhouses. Some pools in conservative towns separated the sexes and had one side for women and the other for men.
I don’t know if they were segregated, but I only see White people in the photos. The bathhouse south of Pico Blvd. at around Bicknell Street was next to the beach where Black people congregated. I imagine they may have had minorities at that nearby bathhouse? This beach area by Bay Street and Bicknell Street where Black people went was called the Inkwell. There is a historic marker in stone there at Bay Street commemorating the Ink Well.
About this time much of the new construction of homes and apartments began to have baths and/or showers. Locals could then take a bath at home. With the dredging to build the canals and the building of Venice, more sand was left on our beach. A couple of break waters were added to slow beach erosion. The new sewer plant and the combination of several piers began to allow the sand to slowly build up over time and the ocean began to get farther away from our Ocean Front Walk. Much more sand was added years later when the Marina was built and dredged out. This made it harder to pump in fresh salt water. Also by the late 1920s the fad was losing its appeal. There were so many bathhouses that the novelty soon wore off. The flappers or sexy girls from the 1920s and early 1930s began hanging out and strutting their stuff on the beach. Even though our ocean is cold much of the time, people began to venture out into the surf more. Plus it was free to just go down to the ocean and jump in. Life guards were hired and trained to watch out for swimmers on the beach. Thousands of people had flocked daily to our bathhouses until the mid 1920s, but by the late 1920s many began to close from lack of business. Maintenance costs for the large pools was high. Just the heating bills alone were enormous. Then the Great Depression hit in 1929 and business at the piers dropped considerably and didn’t begin to pick up again until 1935. By the beginning of WWII most of our giant bathhouses closed from high costs and lack of business. In 1943 the Venice Plunge was closed because the city declared the building unsafe from dry rot. In 1946 the Venice Pier lease wasn’t renewed by the city and the pier was demolished.
Time moves on and waits for no one…fads come and go – styles change – tastes evolve – movie stars and singers change every minute. And so went the great age of the dinosaurs – the massive, expensive to operate plungeasaurus became extinct. The great age of the ocean side plunges was no more…
Our amazing Ocean Park Plunge Bathhouse at Navy Street in Venice was sadly torn down. A new smaller building was put up where different variations of bingo were played. Bingo and gambling had been outlawed in L.A. but they tried to get around the anti bingo laws by creating new variations on the game. They invented funny names like bridgo and tango. Finally in the late 1940s the city closed the last of them down. My mom ran the bakery in Ocean Park and later at the Cadillac Hotel at Dudley Ave., and she used to say that when they closed the bingo parlors the money left the beach. After the bingo parlor closed there I remember it was empty for some time with the big sign up saying bingo. For a while it became a fun slot car racing place where you could rent or bring your slot cars and race them. Unfortunately our beach area kids were mostly poor like me and we couldn’t afford to spend much money there. It closed and was vacant again. It was torn down and it became a parking lot. Some years later they built the Adda & Paul Safran Senior Housing that is there now. Their arched front door is the same shape as the old front door of the wonderful old Ocean Park Plunge bathhouse that once stood there. When I tell people today about the bathhouses with heated ocean water many think it would be a fantastic idea today! However, our board of health would probably never allow it.
Why did the robber take a bath? He wanted to make a clean get away! Well, it’s time for me to try and make a clean get away until I shower you again with more of our amazing local history!
Marty Lboff - Lagoon bathhouse2

Marty Liboff - Lagoon bathhouse1

 

Above: The Lagoon bath house at Main St. and Windward Ave.

where 1501 Main St. is now (north, west side)

Marty Liboff - OP bathhouse2 favorite

Above: The Ocean Park Plunge at Navy St. and the OFW

where the Paul and Adda Safron Senior Housing is nowMarty Liboff - Venice bathhouse1

Marty Liboff - Venice bathhouse2

Marty Liboff - Venice bathhouse3Above: The Venice Plunge exterior and interior

on OFW in front of the Sidewalk Cafe (on the north side of OFW)


Homeless but far from Hopeless

April 1, 2015

By Jack Neworth

Venice Beach is home to some of the most talented street artists and musicians in the world. In some way it’s part of why Venice’s fame extends around the world. And it definitely does. In various polls of desired destinations of international tourists, visiting Venice is #2 right behind Disneyland. That one is a theme park and the other is where people work, live and call home, illustrates that Venice’s notoriety is just one of many enigmas of life here.
Skyrocketing real estate values have also brought additional pressures here leading to seemingly constant battles between developers, landlords and residents. In the middle are often Venice’s street performers and homeless population. With regard to the homeless, to their credit, most Venetians seem to favor compassionate treatment of those less fortunate than themselves.
Among the most respected of the “boardwalk people” is Cornell Smith (AKA “Smitty”), who’s both an artist and homeless. Smitty “resides” at Horizon Avenue and Ocean Front Walk in space #30. Each morning Smitty gets up before 6 a.m. or he will get a ticket. Then he must be in his spot on the boardwalk by 9 a.m., with all his possession, or he faces another ticket.
A plumber for over thirty years, as well as artist, film maker and writer, Smitty is most famous in Venice for his unique wheel chair, which has to be the Cadillac of all wheelchairs with its almost magical feel. It took Smitty three years to build. It includes dozens of sections of plumbing piping.
Hooked up to a powerful hose, the wheel chair becomes a fantastic water show. It has 36 separate valves that open in sequence that when choreographed to his music system, creates a breath-taking performance art. (Let’s see a Cadillac do that!)
Unfortunately, building the chair cost Smitty his last residence near downtown L.A.’s skid row. Apparently, construction of the elaborate chair violated his lease and led to his homeless condition. He certainly can’t afford to store the chair, plus he loves talking to people about it, so Venice is a perfect fit.
Born in Chicago 60 years ago, Smitty was raised with his six siblings, in the dangerous South Side neighborhood with its gangs, drugs and violence. When he was ten his father gave him a Super 8 camera and his dream of being a film maker was born. So it was, that after graduating high school, Smitty wound up attending Columbia College majoring in Film Studies.
In 1992, Smitty won two film making awards and has continued to write screenplays even while without a roof over his head. Despite his difficult living circumstances and health issues, Smitty remains ever hopeful.
Due to Smitty’s diabetes, eight years ago the lower part of his left leg was amputated. He also has a heart condition which often leaves him weak. Add to that the general obstacles all homeless folks face, and you can imagine the day-to-day challenges Smitty deals with.
For example, just sleeping can leave a homeless person vulnerable to being robbed or attacked. Fortunately Smitty has friends on the boardwalk who protect one another. And then there’s always the fear of police harassment, though Smitty says for the most part the police make an effort to treat the homeless with respect.
Some of Smitty’s friends have created a website hoping to start a new life: Www.cheapestactors.com – it includes a profile on many of Smitty’s friends looking for work as actors and/or background players for TV and movies. The community motivates each other and are like family. For example, if someone needs a visit to the doctor’s, Smitty gladly drives them in his wheelchair.
Smitty continues to dream that one of his many scripts will ultimately see the light of day. His goal is to have his work read by a Hollywood producer. He’s currently crafting a low-budget gangster movie set in the Depression-era Chicago.
As summer approaches, tourists are flocking here in even greater numbers. On any given day, his health permitting, Smitty can be seen lovingly tinkering with his wheelchair like the caretaker of a great work of art. Despite his physical ailments, Smitty is always eager to answer tourists’ questions and pose for photos. It pleases him to imagine that, as these tourists return to their homes all across the globe, a tiny part of himself goes with them.
(To find our more about Smitty and or see his magical wheelchair, go to Ocean Front Walk and Horizon Avenue, space #30, or email: jnsmdp@aol.com.)

Jack Neworth pxAbove: Smitty at the wheel of his all-purpose wheelchair

 


Long Live Millie Mims!

March 1, 2015

By Suzy Williams

In honor of International Women’s Day and the corresponding Beachhead March issue, I would like to shed some fresh Venice daylight on a remarkable and real woman, Millie Mims, the nourishing Goddess of the Boardwalk. Many of you know that she serves up a delicious organic vegetarian soup,  (she gathers the yummy comestibles from local farmers’ market surpluses), hot rice and a big salad every day, rain or shine, to the hungry people of Venice, just about a hundred a day  (every day except Thursday). Whole Foods donates really great bread.
She attracts volunteers to help her serve, but she does much of the cooking and schlepping herself. That kind of tangible daily devotion to sheer human kindness is something that should (and often does!) inspire us all. She is interested not only in feeding people good food, but also in nurturing positive energy and connectedness. She inspires us to be kind – first and foremost in life.
Last month I attended a benefit for Millie and her organization, New Life Society. It was hosted by the handsome Robert Walsh, treasurer for the aforementioned NLS, at Big Red Sun, a beautiful hippie store on Rose that sells classy succulent planters and such. It was very heartening to see lots of young, rather well-off folk forking over $125.00 each to party down with Millie Mims.
So if you happen to be down on your luck and could use some TLC, or if you’re flush and are inclined to share your good fortune, drop on by Navy and Ocean Front Walk. Come by around 4 P.M. and partake in the largesse of Life, as exhibited by Herself, you know who.

Millie


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